Catherine Mary Cobham


  • KY16 9PH

    United Kingdom

Accepting Postgraduate Research Students

Personal profile

Research overview

Catherine's research area is modern Arabic fiction. She has published papers on aspects of the writing of Naguib Mahfouz, Abdelilah al-Hamdouchi and Hanan al-Shaykh, among others. Over the last few years she has had a particular interest in Iraqi novels and short stories written by the generation of writers who came to prominence between the 1950s and 1970s, notably Gha’ib Tu’ma Farman, Fu’ad al-Takarli,  Mahdi Isa al-Saqr and Muhammad Khudayyir. Catherine's work is distinguished by an emphasis on detailed textual analysis, by its understanding of the literary and cultural context of the works analysed (including the way they are received by contemporary critics in the Arab world), and by its ability to draw on modern literary critical themes and approaches. She has also translated numerous works by modern and contemporary Arab writers, including Mahmoud Darwish, Yusuf Idris, Naguib Mahfouz, Hanan al-Shaykh and Fuad al-Takarli.

Future research

In progress:

'Muhammad Khudayyir’s Cyber Adab: Prometheus in the Iraqi alley' (with Fabio Caiani)

Abstract submitted of invited contribution to forthcoming special issue on Iraqi literature in The Journal of Contemporary Iraq and the Arab World.

Single authored articles in progress:

Article on Custom and Culture in the Short Stories of Yusuf Idris for submission to al-Karmil journal. Submission and publication delayed till 2022

Single-authored research papers planned on:

i) the portrayal of religious leaders in selected short stories of Yusuf Idris and others.

ii) the colonial experience as depicted in 2 or 3 postcolonial short stories, including 'Zunuj wa badu wa fallahun' ('Blacks, Bedouin and Peasants'), Ghalib Halasa (Jordan 1932-1989); 'Ansaf al-tha'irin' ('The Half Revolutionaries'), Yusuf Idris.

Research interests

I have worked on issues such as religion, gender and popular culture in fiction from Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Iraq, and analysed literary form with reference to space, metafiction and polyphony in various modern Arab writers, including Yusuf Idris, Najib Mahfuz, Hanan al-Shaykh, Abd al-Ilah al-Hamdouchi and Fuad al-Takarli.

I have worked on realism and the poetics of space in the writing of Gha'ib Tu'ma Farman (b. Baghdad 1927; d. Moscow 1990) and have investigated the way in which stream of consciousness and interior monologue entered Arabic, and specifically Iraqi, fiction with special reference to the influence of the Arabic translation of James Joyce's Ulysses on Abd al-Malik Nuri (Iraq, 1924-1998), which required a wider understanding of the literary and artistic life of Baghdad in the 1940s and 1950s.

I have also translated novels by Mahfuz, al-Shaykh, Liana Badr and al-Takarli, stories by a wide range of writers including Idris, Idwar al-Kharrat and Huzama Habayeb, and other writings by Adonis, Mahmud Darwish and Muhammad Barrada. Serious literary translation of this kind requires significant background research, as well as linguistic and cultural expertise. I have translated the last published book of prose and poetry by Mahmud Darwish (d. 2008; Athar al-farasha, 2008; English translation Saqi, London 2009)

My general aim in my research is to show ways in which modern Arabic fiction provides alternative narratives in the writers' particular social and political environments, by a combination of detailed textual analysis and new readings of cultural history.

I feel the serious academic nature of translating Arabic fiction as indicated above is beginning to be more widely understood, and hope that it may be eventually be included in formal assessments of research expertise.

Other expertise

Literary (and literary-related) translation

Selected translations:

The Occasional Virgin, translation of Adhara Londonistan by Hanan al-Shaykh, London: Bloomsbury 2018; New York: Vintage 2018.

Adrenalin, translation of selected poems by Ghayath al-Madhoun, USA: Action Books 2017.

A River Dies of Thirst, translation of Athar al-farasha, prose and poetry by Mahmud Darwish, London: Saqi, 2009; New York: Archipelago Books, 2009

Only in London, translation of Innaha Lundun, ya 'azizi by Hanan al-Shaykh (shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize; reprinted Bloomsbury 2010)

The Long Way Back, translation of al-Raj' al-ba'id by Fu'ad al-Takarli, American University in Cairo Press, 2001

The Harafish, translation of al-Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz, American University of Cairo Press and Doubleday, New York, 1994


Academic/Professional Qualification

BA, University of Leeds; MA, University of Manchester

Teaching activity

Catherine currently teaches both Arabic language (at the honours level) and modern Arabic literature, in the following modules: Advanced Arabic Language, Arabic Short Stories, Exile and Identity, Palestinian Fiction. She currently contributes to two modules in Comparative Literature and has also taught modules on the Postcolonial Arabic Novel in English translation and contributed to subhonours language and literature teaching.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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